Joey Johnson is only 16 years old and, apparently, in a world of trouble.
Johnson is accused of murdering his grandparents, James and Beverly Johnson, in their rural Buchanan County home on July 4.
Crimes like this always leave me at a loss.
Keep in mind that Master Johnson has barely been charged with this crime and been found guilty of nothing except being a teenage boy. But if he is found to be responsible for his grandparents’ deaths, I will want to know why this happened. Is the kid mentally disturbed? Did he play video games that desensitized him to violence and killing? Was he the victim of abuse? Or is he just a cold-hearted murderer with no conscience?
We may never get any answers to these questions.
Despite days of reporting, we have uncovered scant details about the accused or his family or what went on in the living room at the house on Hurlingen Road.
We have been told that Joey was extremely isolated. He was home-schooled by his grandmother. He doesn’t seem to have a Facebook or Instagram account or a Twitter handle. Law enforcement officers do say that he did have a cell phone, but we don’t know how tightly his grandparents controlled its use.
Perhaps the lesson here for parents and grandparents is that social interaction is crucial to all kids, especially teen boys who need an outlet for their energy and validation from their peers. Your kid doesn’t have to be the most popular boy in school, but he needs contact with somebody. Even the most anti-social kids do interact with a small group of friends.
If Joey Johnson felt trapped by life with his grandparents, maybe he was.
Most parents who homeschool their kids do so because they want to have a daily impact on the content and quality of their education. They want their kids to develop at their own pace, receive individualized attention and, yes, even protect them from the sometimes traumatic and difficult world that is our public schools.
But most also know that it’s important for their kids to have contact with the outside world and other kids. They might closely control that contact, but at least it happens.
A picture has emerged of the Johnson family that shows them as reclusive and regimented. Neighbors say the grandparents mostly kept to themselves and didn’t interact with anyone, even other family members. Relatives admitted that the Johnsons weren’t close and the grandparents’ siblings had not seen each other in years.
The Johnsons did attend church but sat in the same pew each week and didn’t linger after the service.
This picture doesn’t mean the Johnsons were bad people and deserved a violent death.
James and Beverly stepped in and raised their grandson when both their son and the boy’s mother proved either irresponsible or not interested.
Perhaps they thought they were doing the best they could and they wanted to protect him from what can be a cruel outside world.
But protection is a tricky thing and strict isolation affects people in different ways.
If Joey Johnson did commit two murders, the crushing isolation he may have felt while living in the country with his grandparents might be a key factor.